EDITOR'S NOTE - The Best of 2008

Recently, Andrew Caillard was in New York, promoting his new book on Penfold’s Rewards of Patience tasting. Caillard is a Master of Wine and the director of fine wine for Langton’s, Australia’s leading wine auction house. Over dinner, he mentioned a project he had in the works, revising a tasting he’d done to trace the etymology of shiraz. The tasting considered the most important wines in the development of contemporary styles, and their particular evolutionary path from the original 19th century plantings and 20th century winemaking experiments. Caillard agreed to work up a mind map for this issue, tracing the influence of key players in shiraz. It gives a fascinating view of shiraz from inside Australia, while his accompanying text provides some of the detail on all the connections.
     Caillard’s map gives a context to some of the newest styles of shiraz, including the cool-climate wines that might be unrecognizable to Barossa drinkers. One of the newest of the new is Mornington Peninsula, where Campbell Mattinson considers the latest phenomenon created by wines like Paringa Estate and Roc Shiraz.
     Head farther south to New Zealand and syrah becomes pretty marginal, but for a few sites on the North Island. The South Island, instead, is pinot noir land, where I spent some time this fall. Central Otago, in the south center of the island, has been busy planting in the new millennium, with acreage increasing nearly five-fold. Eighty percent of the vines are pinot, planted before Sideways hit the theaters, planted because it’s what grows well there. Looking down into steep river canyons, I had flashbacks to vertiginous moments in Portugal’s Douro. With the rain shadow from the Main Divide on the west coast of the island, and vines planted along the Clutha River on crushed and crumbling schist, there was an unmistakable parallel to the Douro here. But for the temperatures. (Last time I checked, there were no glaciers in Portugal.) For now, it’s the people with the older plantings who are making the most expressive wines from this remarkable new terroir. But in five or six years, they’ll be a lot more mature vines. Put aside bungee jumping and Lord of the Rings fantasies; there are plenty of vinous reasons to visit Cromwell and Wanaka.
     Welcome to the new New World of wine.